Unison would be perfect if we found ourselves time traveling to the ’80s and needing to look up job listings, download software, or pose questions to an online community. That’s because Unison browses Usenet, the text-based precursor to the modern internet. Once the cutting edge of online interactivity, Usenet is now the domain of niche topics and downloads of varying degrees of legality. Unison makes it easy to grab video files, music, and other media, and its interface lets you smoothly navigate Usenet’s bulletin-board depths. Unfortunately, the web, the iTunes Store, streaming Netflix, email groups, and other, better services now limit Usenet’s appeal. Time travel remains elusive, so there’s little reason for others to get started on Usenet now, but Unison makes a great browser for Usenet regulars.
Unison's familiar-feeling interface tames the wildest corner of the internet.
Before you can begin with Unison, you need to connect to a Usenet server. Smaller, independent ISPs often bundle this service with your internet access. But big cable and DSL providers, such as Comcast and AT&T, often don’t. Panic offers a $9/month subscription for those without Usenet access, and a Google search will quickly bring up a wide range of Usenet providers if you don’t have access already.
The Unison interface expertly moves you through thousands of newsgroups. You’ll usually search for a group name and then add its subscription to the left column. You can then browse or search the thousands of messages within that group, such as honing in on nonstick cookware tips within rec.food.cooking. Slick organization lets you combine subscriptions in folders and search those together; it’s useful for pooling groups on similar topics.
Newsgroups can host media files, and Unison can preview pictures, music, and other content. The software manages these files well, color-coding items it thinks are complete differently than files that may be corrupted. Unison can even automatically combine multipart .rar video downloads back into a single file once all the pieces are downloaded.
Unison’s simple interface lets you post messages like you’d compose an email. But deep features will impress Usenet junkies, including the ability to resume downloads. You can even set rules to automatically retrieve certain content, mark messages, or perform other regular tasks.
Usenet is a wild, often-forgotten mixture of helpful communities, spam, pirated software, and other illegal activities. Whatever you’re after, Usenet fanatics will be happy with Unison. But even software this great will have a tough time converting non-believers who could just turn to a web browser or other alternative.
Unison’s great organization and media features keep you connected if you’re already invested in a Usenet community.
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS 10.5 or later; Usenet server access
Simple interface copies a mail browser in a good way. SSL, rules, resumed downloads, and multiple-server support match advanced Usenet needs. Previews media files before download. Combines multi-part .rar downloads.
Requires third-party indexes to search across groups you don’t subscribe to. Even with good tools, Usenet is still pretty esoteric.